By Christabel Ligami

Emerging technologies remain key in promoting economic growth, transformation and expansion of digital trade in Africa, according to a report on the First Session of the Committee on Private Sector Development, Regional Integration, Trade, Infrastructure, Industry and Technology.

The report was presented at a session on Private Sector Development and the Digital Economy in support of Regional Integration in Africa during the 39th ECA Committee of Experts of the Conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development in Addis Ababa.

Over the years the report says, there is increased transformation of digital technology in Africa – a home to 11.5 % of the world’s total internet users.

“There is increased African participation in technologies in support of continent’s transformation and achievement of Sustainable Development Goals – SDGs,” Francis Ikome, Chief, Regional Integration Section, Regional Integration and Trade Division at ECA who presented the report.

“But there is still need to harness emerging technology to assist implementation of AfCFTA – regional economic communicates (RECs).”

ECA estimates an increase of intra-African exports of industrial products by 15-25 % in 2040 due to AfCFTA

So far 55 Member states, except Eritrea have signed the AfCFTA and 37 countries have ratified it by January 2021.

“We are urging other countries to accelerate the process. ECA will assist in the development of national strategies on AfCFTA to facilitate ratification processes and phase II & III of negotiations,” said Ikome.

The report indicates that progress has been made in accelerating regional integration agenda by the continent. But there are mixed results with slow pace of implementation in some areas such as free movement persons. Also implementation of regional integration continues to face challenges including financial, human capacity and security issues.

“It was observed during the meeting that Africa’s limited liability company limited liability companies – LLCs need enhanced support in the implementation of Vienna Programme of Action for Landlocked Developing Countries (VPoA) to reap the full benefit of African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA),” said Ikome adding that ECA will continue to support member states on their efforts towards the regional integration including Assessing Regional Integration in Africa – ARIA, Africa Regional Integration Index (ARII) , Negotiations on AfCFTA processes.

Infrastructure, the report says remains one of the key drivers for economic development in Africa. Financing infrastructure projects remains a big challenge to member states, particularly in the area of electricity and energy.

“Development of regulatory frameworks for Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) to finance infrastructure development is critical,” noted Ikome.

“Member states need to use alternative sources to finance infrastructure development including private equity funds.”

To support regional integration and implementation of AfCFTA, he said it is important to have inclusion of digitalization for women empowerment in support of, huge investment in science, technology, innovation including PPPs. Member states, RECs and private sector should also leverage from 4th industrial revolution, development of ICT as enabler for digital economy.

The report recommends that ECA and other partners to support more member states in the development of National Strategies to accelerate the implementation of AfCFTA; enhance monitoring of regional integration agenda through deployment of various tools such as ARII; ARIA, and AfCFTA Country Business Index; the ECA to deepen analytical work on the impact and benefits of AfCFTA on Member States, RECs and other stakeholders; support research that focuses on key drivers of science and innovations; the ECA, in collaboration with its partners, to assist MS in the negotiation processes of AfCFTA Phase II &III; member states to accelerate the ratification of protocols of AfCFTA and Free Movement of persons which are key in promoting RI; RECs to mainstream the Action Plan of BIAT into their programs; enhance support towards capacity building for the RECs/MS to implement their industrialization policies.